Farewell Murali — Record wicket taker retires from Tests

By Rhys Hayward
Muttiah MuralitharanMuralitharan broke Courtney Walsh's record for most Test wickets in 2004 (Photo: Ajithjay)

Muttiah Muralitharan

Test cricket will wave goodbye to one of its finest ever bowlers when Muttiah Muralitharan retires from the five day game after the first Test with India, starting on 18 July.

Murali’s idiosyncratic action and illuminating smile graced the game for 792 wickets—the highest by an individual and a record unlikely to be surpassed by any of the current generation, if at all.

He also brought with him controversy and the historic acceptance from the game’s governing body that every bowler throws the ball to some degree.

Public opinion, particularly in Australia, where he was famously no-balled by Darrel Hair in 1995, has retained a certain element of suspicion, but Murali gently won the world over.

Of the many unconventional cricketers to grace the game never has anyone been so difficult to define. He spins the ball vigorously in the same direction as an off spinner, but there the similarities end.

Murali bowls wide of the crease, with a chest on action which spits emphatically in the face of the MCC coaching manual.

His uses rubber wrists rather than his fingers impart frightening revolutions on the ball and a genetic defect—his right elbow does not fully extend—allows him to manipulate the ball in both directions, much to batsmen’s bewilderment, particularly English ones.

He announced himself dramatically on English soil at the Oval in 1998. England, fresh from a series win over South Africa, were favourites to put the Sri Lankan’s, World Champions at 50 overs cricket but inconsistent at test level, comfortably to the sword.

But on an Oval dustbowl more resembling Colombo than Chester-le-Street, Murali produced a display of unforgettable magic.

England’s batsmen were twisted and contorted as the ball spun around corners and Murali inspired Sri Lanka to a historic 10 wicket win, collecting 16 wickets in the match.

The next decade belonged to spin as Murali, together with contemporaries Shane Warne and Anil Kumble, stormed the all time test wickets list.

Warne was first to 500 but it was Murali, in the aftermath of the blond tyro’s drugs ban, who toppled Courtney Walsh’s record in May 2004. And while Warne recaptured it prior to his farewell in 2007, Murali’s longevity paid dividends.

He could well fail in passing the 800 wickets mark but with the equally beguiling Ajantha Mendis waiting in the wings, his timing makes sense.

The enthusiasm remains but some of the bounce has been sapped from his run up and batsmen, particularly left-handers, find him a far less baffling opponent.

Murali plans to say his final goodbyes during next year’s World Cup but, with his test career over, he enters the epilogue of a stunning career.

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